There are books, websites and courses on wheel building but in layman’s terms this is what I do, and the order I do it in:
Gather together the component parts together, i.e. a hub, and rim and spokes (inc. nipples). Check that the rim and the hub have the same number of spoke holes so they are a match. Choose the type of spokes you want to use and then work out the correct spoke length for the wheel. This involves taking measurements from the rim and hub, deciding on the spoke pattern and then feeding these into a spoke length calculator. I use the DT Swiss one on their website. This will give you the spoke lengths required for each side of the wheel so the correct lengths can be chosen from stock or ordered. Spokes may be different lengths on either side in order to correctly ‘dish’ the wheel i.e. to centre the rim over the whole axle not just between the hub flanges. On a front wheel with no disc brake then the spoke lengths would be the same on either side, however, on a rear wheel with a cassette you’d expect the cassette side to have shorter spokes in order to help the rim sit central.
This term refers to assembling these components together by ‘lacing’ the spokes into the rim and the hub to give you a wheel. First the 4 ‘key’ spokes are inserted in the correct place to dictate the spoke pattern (a ‘normal’ 32hole wheel usually has a 3-cross spoke pattern i.e. each spoke crosses another spoke 3 times on its journey from the hub to the rim). On each side of the wheel the spokes are divided into 2, so half point forward and half point backwards. These halves also differ in the one half have the spoke heads inside the hub flange and the other half are on the outside of the hub flange. So effectively you have 4 sections of spokes that make up the full wheel, and the 4 ‘key’ spokes inserted at the beginning of this process show you where the first spoke is in each section, so you ‘lace’ each section in turn. When you’ve finished you’ll have a fully assembled wheel with the correct spoke pattern.
Tensioning and Truing
Initially all the nipples are wound up the end of the thread on each spoke so you know they are the same all the way around the wheel. Next tension is added by putting on full turn on each nipple. In order to ‘dish’ (centre the rim over the axle) the wheel correctly you may need to add more turns to the spokes on one side of the wheel. After adding tension or correcting dish the wheel is checked to see if it is straight and round, and corrections are made by tightening or loosening the nipples. This whole process is then repeated several times until the wheel is at the required tension. This is checked by putting a tension meter on each spoke and then adding or reducing tension by turning the nipples to bring it to within 5% of the required tension. The correct tension depends on the design and thickness if the spoke and ‘lookup’ tables come with the tension meter. After the tension has been reached and evened out across the wheel then a final check of dish and straightness and roundness are usually required. Throughout all this the wheel is also ‘stressed’ by hand in order to release any ’wind-up’ in the spokes and nipples. If you didn’t do that then it would happen naturally during the first ride when you’d hear ‘pings’ and creaks’ as the ‘wind-up’ was released and that may send the wheel out of true.